Tuesday, May 20, 2014

US government finally doing something about those Mélissa Theuriau fake news ads

Those fake online news ads for sketchy products that we all hate have finally got the attention of American regulators.

Consumerist reports:

The Federal Trade Commission has filed a suit [PDF] against the operators of several of these sites, for allegedly violating the law by making unsubstantiated weight loss claims, failing to disclose that endorsers were paid for their positive feedback, faking news articles and comments on their sites, and, perhaps most egregiously, using a headshot of an existing French news anchor to create a “staff reporter” out of whole cloth. 
According to the FTC’s complaint, shortly after the Dr. Oz piece — which did not mention any specific brand of green coffee extract — the people behind Florida-based dietary supplement “Pure Green Coffee” began snapping numerous URLs both to sell their product to customers and to provide misleading and unfounded weight loss claims in the form of faked news stories and bought-and-paid-for testimonials.
The "existing French news anchor" is Mélissa Theuriau, whose image went viral a few years ago because the internet decided she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Subsequently, her image was stolen and repurposed on ads like this:

That image is from a blogpost I did more than three years ago.

I'm not sure why the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection only got involved now, but they're hopping mad.

Here's their Director, Jessica Rich: “Not only did these defendants trick consumers with their phony weight loss claims, they also compounded the deception by advertising on pretend news sites, making it impossible for people to know whether they were seeing news or an ad.”

From their May 19th press release:
The FTC charged the defendants with false and unsupported advertising claims, including: 
that consumers using Pure Green Coffee can lose 20 pounds in four weeks; 16 percent of body fat in twelve weeks; and 30 pounds and four-to-six inches of belly fat in three to five months. 
that studies prove Pure Green Coffee use can result in average weight loss of 17 pounds in 12 weeks or 22 weeks, weight loss of 10.5 percent, and body fat loss of 16 percent without diet or exercise. 
that certain websites linked to the defendants’ sites are objective news sites with articles written by objective news reporters and that the comments following the supposed articles reflected views of independent consumers. 
The FTC also charged the defendants with deceptively failing to disclose that consumers who endorsed the supplement had received it for free and were paid to provide a video testimonial.

So fake testimonials and ads presented as news are not OK anymore? Has anyone explained this to Taboola,  Outbrain, and other click-parasites of the internet?

Via Think Progress, of all places.

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